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Microsoft says axed certificates were FAILING its software biz

Ate up half the education budget, produced only 150 grads a year

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Microsoft has admitted that the masters-level certifications it suddenly cancelled two weeks ago weren't delivering the skilled workforce the company needs to make its products a success in the enterprise.

The admission came during a conference call, a recording of which The Register has obtained, staged to engage with those impacted by the decision to cancel the certifications.

During the call Microsoft announced it will continue to offer exams for the masters-level certifications for an additional 90 days, which means those hoping to attain the certifications have until December to do so. Refunds for those who have taken courses in order to win Masters-level certifications were also announced, as was preservation of course materials until 2016.

Tim Sneath, who heads Microsoft's certification programs, expanded on past explanations for the certifications' withdrawal by explaining they consumed around half of Microsoft Learning Systems' budget but resulted in less than one in a thousand new certifications each year. As such, the certifications were not sustainable.

The low volume of new graduates also means the masters certifications don't help the rest of Microsoft in its core role: selling software.

“When we look at products like Windows, Exchange and SharePoint, those are billion dollar businesses,” Sneath said. “We have less than 200 certified individuals for each product. 200 does not give us the volume to be successful deploying those products to the enterprise.”

Microsoft has attempted to scale the certifications by, among other things, allowing exams to be conducted at third-party facilities. That hasn't worked, in part because the certifications must be taught face-to-face and exams are marked by hand. Because those processes make it hard to scale the certifications Redmond has decided it is better off scrapping them and starting again.

That work is under way, but Sneath has no idea when the new courses will be announced or introduced. “We do recognise the value in a program beyond MCSE and MCSD that people can aspire to and we do recognise the need for deep technical training and advanced level certifications,” he said, but added he is unwilling to offer any timeframe for the revelation of new certifications.

Sneath also tried to dispel the theory that Microsoft's decision to announce the cancellation of the Masters level certifications on a Friday afternoon before a long weekend was an attempt to bury the bad news “like an episode of The West Wing.” The time chosen for the announcement was, he said, the earliest possible moment it could have been done and resulted in a rather nasty long weekend for him and other team members as they hosed down customer ire online. Ruining weekends, Sneath said, is not something he generally aims to do.

Consultation to design the new certifications has already begun and will involve customers, current certification holders and Microsoft's product groups. Just what will emerge is uncertain, but Cisco's CCIE was held up as a program Microsoft admires.

The call also featured many references to online course material, automated examinations and other methods that would make it possible to offer certifications to more people more often. The tone of the call also suggested many holders of lesser Microsoft certifications found the masters-level accreditations intimidating, suggesting that successors to the Masters-level qualifications may require a lesser commitment of time and perhaps less technical content. ®

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